Women’s Soccer: Writers ruminate on rest of Northwestern’s season


(Daily file photo by Katie Pach)

Kayla Sharples kicks the ball. The junior defender and the Wildcats started off the season slow, but have been more successful as of late.

Garrett Jochnau and Charlie Goldsmith

Women’s Soccer

In 2016, Northwestern lost just one conference game en route to winning a share of the Big Ten title. But in 2017, the Wildcats struggled during their nonconference season and suffered an early Big Ten loss. Ahead of NU’s match against Indiana, The Daily’s women’s soccer writers discuss the team’s outlook.

1. After allowing only seven goals during all of last season, senior goalkeeper Lauren Clem has already allowed 11 this season. What’s changed?

Charlie Goldsmith: Because of the Cats’ difficult nonconference schedule, better goal scorers and stronger front lines challenged Clem and NU’s defense. Most of the goals the Cats have conceded stemmed from opponents breaking down NU’s defense, not errors by Clem and the back line. However, the Cats have shut out three consecutive opponents, which suggests that their defensive struggles are fading away as the season continues.

Garrett Jochnau: Difficulty of schedule certainly plays into the equation; Penn State alone, which NU never faced last year, is responsible for three of those 11 goals. The likely possibility that the Cats rode a season-long hot streak in 2016 should also be taken into account. But to the extent that NU’s defense has taken a hit — and the statistical difference is anything but the whole story — the loss of graduate defender Kaitlin Moore cannot be overlooked. Moore was a consistent starter on last year’s back line which was — pardon the cliché — a well-oiled machine. The loss of a key cog hasn’t sent the defense spiraling, but it certainly has forced the Cats to recalibrate. But with four defenders in 2017 with plenty of starting experience, NU should continue to fall back into its former glory as it progresses deeper into the schedule.

2. Despite a rough start to the season, the Cats haven’t lost since dropping a match at No. 17 Penn State on Sept. 14. Is this turnaround for real, or is it just a reflection of their competition?

Goldsmith: While NU’s 3-0 result was disappointing, it was more indicative of Penn State’s strength than the Cats’ weakness: NU’s next two matches were against Ohio State, second place in the conference, and undefeated Rutgers. The Cats shut out both opponents, beating Ohio State 1-0 and equaling Rutgers in a scoreless draw. They have clearly been playing their strongest soccer in their Big Ten matchups following Penn State against two of the conference’s premier teams.

Jochnau: Given that NU struggled with Rutgers’ offense on more than one occasion last year, it’s hard to label a scoreless draw against the Scarlet Knights a mere reflection of competition. It’s entirely likely that the Cats are in the early stages of a turnaround given that, quite simply, this team has the tools to be great. Last year, the defense was sensational, so it’s promising — and unlikely to be a circumstantial aberration — that the back line is again locking down opponents. The remainder of Big Ten play will paint a clearer picture, but signs point to a legitimate turnaround.

3. To repeat as Big Ten champions, the Cats will have to be near-perfect the rest of the way. Is another championship in the cards?

Goldsmith: NU has already earned four points against the second and third ranked teams in the conference. The Nittany Lions, who are undefeated in Big Ten play, have struggled on the road this season. They tied unranked Nebraska on Sunday and their only dropped points are away from home. They play at Ohio State as well as No. 13 Rutgers in the next month, leaving the door open for a potential slip.

Jochnau: It’s certainly a possibility. As Charlie mentioned, NU’s offensive game has left much to be desired. Fortunately for the Cats’ Big Ten title hopes, the 2016 season proved that the team can survive without an all-star scoring attack. Despite a rocky nonconference campaign, the start of conference play has reminded us that both Clem and the defense are elite. There’s also the eye-test reality that this year’s offense is marked improvement from last year’s banged-up version. NU badly missed junior forward Brenna Lovera in the back half of 2016, and her return elevates the offense. Between a defense that still has a chance to recapture last year’s magic and an attack that finally has its best scorer on the field for conference play, the Cats are legitimate contenders in 2017.

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @garrettjochnau

Email: [email protected]
Twitter: @2021_charlie